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July 17, 1987 - Image 30

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-07-17

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FRIDAY, JULY 17, 1987


Special to The Jewish News

Jewish activists here have
expressed surprise at a "brief-
ing" for Jewish student in-
terns in Washington by a
representative of the South
African embassy. The concern
stems from the meeting's
coordination by an official of
the Anti-Defamation League
of the B'nai B'rith, one of the
world's most respected civil
liberties groups, and that it
took place in an ADL
One aide to a Democratic
senator active in Jewish
causes referred to the speaker,
Theo Aronson, as an
"apologist for the system of
apartheid. This is something
that is entirely inappropriate
for a group like ADL."
Another critic, an analyst
for a congressional committee
dealing with African issues,
worried that ADL's involve-
ment in the event could com-
promise the group's position
as an advocate for human
rights. "I understand that
there is a free speech aspect
to this," he said. "But this is
disturbing, since Jewish
organizations have in the
past several years moved in-
to a strong and constructive
posture towards sanctions.
For a Jewish group to sponsor
such an individual without
presenting a contrary view —
especially in view of the
South African government's
move further to the right — is
very, very disappointing."
At the meeting at the B'nai
B'rith building, Aronson
repeatedly attacked the
American press for exag-
gerating the problems in his
country. Aronson is an at-
torney and a B'nai B'rith
member. Formerly a member
of the South African opposi-
tion party, he now sides with
Prime Minister Botha. Aron-
son has been seeking
meetings with Jewish leaders
in an attempt to blunt U.S.
Jews' support for sanctions
and disinvestment.
In his talk to the interns,
Aronson insisted that the
Botha regime has "reformed
South Africa in every aspect
of human life. In America, the
media depicts South Africa as
a battle between whites and
blacks. But under President
Botha's sweeping reforms, it
is really a battle between peo-
ple who want peace and peo-
ple who want violence."
On the question of sanc-
tions, Aronson said the
African National Congress
(ANC) "wants sanctions so

people will go hungry and
starve and there will be a
greater possibility of revolu-
tion." In response to a ques-
tion, Aronson suggested that
the current state of emergen-
cy in South Africa is effective
and necessary.
At one point, Aronson re-
ferred to the controversy over
children detained by the
government. He insisted that
charges in the American
press were "totally untrue
and unfounded." A recent
report by the Minister of Law
and Order, he said, stated
that only - 11 children under
16 are in jail. These
youngsters have been charg-
ed with murder and other
acts of violence.
A spokesperson for Sen.
Barbara Mikulski (D-MD),
who has led the fight in Con-
gress to pressure the South
African government to

"There are people
in the South
trying to reform
things in

release young prisoners, put
the number at upwards of
The reaction of the 40 or so
young people was mixed.
Many of the questions were
friendly, although the ques-
tioning grew sharper as Aron-
son laid out his position as a
supporter of the current
Pretoria government.
According to Edward Leavy,
ADL's regional director for
Maryland and D.C. and the
man responsible for the brief-
ing, the purpose of the pro-
gram was to provide
"stimulation" for Jewish
summer interns in
"Theo's mission," said
Leavy, "is to go around the
United States and show how
what's happening in South
Africa is not exactly what is
being reported in the press in
this country. In fact, there are
people in the South African
government who are trying to
reform things in very
deliberate and meaningful
The event, Leavy said, was
organized by summer interns
in his office and was not an
official ADL event. In several
telephone interviews, he said
the ADL has sponsored
speakers of many political
persuasions, and the ADL has

offered to represent —
without charge —
demonstrators arrested in
front of the South African
Aronson's talk, Leavy told the
group that "talking to him
gives me a new perspective.
All I know is what I read in
the papers — and I think that
news is slanted."
Leavy indicated that he saw
no conflict in a civil liberties-
oriented group offering a plat-
form for a spokesman for the
South African government.
"It will probably be inter-
preted that the ADL is giving
them a platform," he said. "I
see it more as an opportunity
for free speech. I like to keep
these students stimulated."
But the presentation at
B'nai B'rith headquarters did
not reflect the sharp divisions
over the vexing South Africa
question. The only speaker
was Aronson and the only
handouts were a collection of
articles favorable to the South
African government and a
brochure from the South
African Embassy entitled
"The Pace of Change in South
Africa," which portrayed that
country as having virtually
eliminated discrimination.
Before Aronson's presenta-
tion, Leavy, who indicated
that he opposes apartheid,
said, "The only thing that
Theo Aronson and I disagree
about is the pace of change in
South Africa."
There was also concern
about the Aronson talk in
wider political circles. "For a
major Jewish association to
voluntarily associate itself
with the South African
government is a tragic
mistake," said Anne Lewis,
director of the Americans for
Democratic Action. "It is set-
ting a tragic example for
young Jews."

Lewis also suggested that
the ADL loses credibility by
sponsoring — even in the in-
terests of free speech — a
public-relations represen-
tative of a government
generally considered to be
one of the most repressive in
the world.
Marc Pearl, Washington
representative of the
American Jewish Congress,
was less concerned about
ADL's image than with the
problem of presenting this
complex issue to young people
in a productive way. "In terms
of its image, ADL can take
care of itself," Pearl said. "But
when you're dealing with
students, you owe it to them
to present both sides."

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